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2019 Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Outlooks - Closer Handcuffs


We've covered each division and we've looked at the top setup men around the league. So what's next? Something that's too often overlooked in fantasy baseball yet maybe too often hyped up in fantasy football: The Handcuff.

Anyone who plays fantasy football knows about handcuffs and usually spends a roster spot or two on a handcuff for a running back. It's much less common in fantasy baseball, but it could be a similarly wise strategy if done correctly. In football, you take a running back's primary backup so that in the event that your starter gets hurt and is forced to miss time, you can slide his backup right into your lineup without missing a beat. C.J. Anderson as Todd Gurley's handcuff at the end of the season probably won some people a few fantasy football championships.

So how does it work in baseball's bullpens? Most teams have a defined closer, but what if that closer gets hurt? Are fantasy owners who drafted him just forced to play with one less closer in their lineup until he's ready to come back? Not necessarily. This article will take a look at closers who should be "handcuffed" on fantasy rosters this season. Of course, this is a significantly better strategy in holds leagues, as stacking a team's closer with the same team's primary setup man can not only provide a solid source of both saves and holds, but it also likely protects the owner from injury. If the closer gets hurt, the top setup man is the top candidate to earn save chances in his place. Even in standard leagues, however, the handcuff strategy is a decent idea in leagues with deeper rosters. Let's take a look at what teams will have effective or perhaps even necessary handcuff combinations:

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New York Yankees

Aroldis Chapman (closer), Dellin Betances (handcuff)

Based on talent and numbers alone, Aroldis Chapman absolutely does not need a handcuff. Based on injury history however? Not a bad idea to have Dellin Betances around just in case. It doesn't hurt that Betances has the strikeout upside to be relevant even in standard leagues despite not holding down a specific ninth inning position either.

Handcuff Rating: optional in standard, recommended in holds leagues.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Ken Giles (closer), Ryan Tepera (handcuff)

Ken Giles will enter the season as the closer for the Toronto Blue Jays, but he'll likely be on a somewhat short leash given his performance last season. While some of his numbers were more than solid (25 K% compared to 3.3 BB%), others were somewhat concerning (4.65 ERA, 1.07 HR/9). Giles lost his closer's role more than once last season and could see the same thing happen in 2019.

Fantasy managers brave enough to draft Giles should try to draft Ryan Tepera as well. Tepera filled in as Blue Jays closer a few times last season, ending up with 7 saves. He's not a high-upside guy, but he's solid enough to return value if Giles gets hurt or gets demoted. He doesn't get much of a bump in holds leagues because other setup men have more strikeout upside.

Handcuff Rating: recommended in standard, recommended in holds leagues.

 

Detroit Tigers

Shane Greene (closer), Joe Jimenez (handcuff)

The Tigers aren't going to win a whole bunch of games in 2019, limiting the upside of any member of the bullpen. Still, a closer is valuable in fantasy, so Shane Greene will still see himself in a lot of fantasy lineups this season. Greene was a trade candidate for a lot of last season but ended up sticking in Detroit. That almost certainly won't be the case in 2019, as the Tigers will have even more incentive to move Greene so they can see just what Jimenez can do in a closer's role.

Greene (5.12 ERA, 23.3 K%) doesn't inspire a ton of confidence either, so even before a trade, it's possible Jimenez (2.91 FIP, 29.2 K%) will take over the ninth inning. Because of his strikeouts and overall solid rate stats, Jimenez is a setup guy who should be owned by those who draft Greene in most formats.

Handcuff Rating: highly recommended in standard, highly recommended in holds leagues.

 

Kansas City Royals

Wily Peralta (closer), Brad Boxberger (handcuff)

The Royals finally found a role for Wily Peralta last season, installing him as the closer and watching him save 14 games late in the season. It wasn't all great though, as Peralta's 15.4 BB% was way too close to his 23.5 K%. There were plenty of concerning signs during Peralta's stint as the closer, but he generally made it work. He should open 2019 as the team's closer, but he'll have veteran free agent signing Brad Boxberger not too far behind.

Boxberger isn't an elite bullpen arm by any means, but he has more experience than Peralta and a manager like the Royals' Ned Yost would seem to value that. Peralta should be a last-ditch effort as a fantasy closer, and Boxberger doesn't need to be owned except as his handcuff.

Handcuff Rating: highly recommended in standard, recommended in holds leagues.

 

Atlanta Braves

Arodys Vizcaino (closer), A.J. Minter (handcuff)

Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino has always been a solid reliever when he's been on the mound, and he's spent much of his time on the mound as the team's closer. The problem has been how little time he's spent on the mound due to various injuries. He's pitched over 40 innings just once in his career and set his career high in saves last season with 16. He's solid enough (2.11 ERA, 25.3 K% last season) to maintain the ninth inning while he's healthy, but since that's certainly no sure thing, lefty A.J. Minter should be picked up as his handcuff.

Minter had a very good rookie season last year, saving 15 games while posting a 3.23 ERA. He's seen as the Braves "closer of the future" and it won't take much struggle or missed time from Vizcaino to make the future start this year.

Handcuff Rating: highly recommended in standard, almost mandatory in holds leagues.

 

Miami Marlins

Drew Steckenrider (closer), Adam Conley (handcuff)

Drew Steckenrider is set to open the season at least as part of Miami's closer committee. He had a decent season last year, although with some concerning trends. Overall, he posted a 3.90 ERA with 27.2 K%. He's a fly ball pitcher, which works out in Miami's spacious home ballpark, but could be an issue on occasion on the road. Steckenrider isn't an elite reliever, but he could be good enough to hold down the ninth inning for a team that won't provide him with all that many save situations anyway.

His handcuff is Adam Conley, although he may end up being more like his co-closer in the ninth inning committee. Conley, a former starter, had similar numbers to Steckenrider last season, but shows some more upside with the development of his slider.

Handcuff Rating: recommended in standard, recommended in holds leagues.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

Corey Knebel (closer), Josh Hader (handcuff)

Corey Knebel has all the right "stuff" to be one of the best closers in baseball and on most teams he'd be entrenched as the closer with no worry or need for a handcuff. With all of the excellent pitchers in the Brewers bullpen, however, Knebel's leash is a lot shorter than it would be on other teams. Because of that, he should be handcuffed in most formats by Josh Hader. The good thing about owning Knebel is that owning Hader is beneficial to any team in any format, and the two make up one of the best one-two punches in baseball.

Handcuff Rating: highly recommended in standard, almost mandatory in holds leagues.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

Jordan Hicks (closer), Andrew Miller (handcuff)

The Cardinals added one of baseball's best relievers this offseason (let's forget about last season for a second), but he won't be their closer, at least not right away. All signs point to the Cardinals giving 22-year-old Jordan Hicks the first crack at the ninth inning this season. Hicks throws hard, really really hard, but he doesn't miss as many bats as you'd expect. He did get a little better with that as the season went on last year, ending up with a 20.7 K%. His control was a bit concerning though, as a 13.3 BB% is higher than you'd want from a closer. Still, he's hit 105 mph on the radar gun, and that just screams, "closer!" to many.

Andrew Miller will be the handcuff for Hicks and could sneak into the ninth inning if Hicks struggles. Miller had a forgettable 2018 season mostly due to injuries, but he was one of baseball's best before that, putting up four seasons in a row of more than 60 innings pitched and ERAs of 2.04 or lower.

Handcuff Rating: highly recommended in standard, almost mandatory in holds leagues.

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